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Stealing from God

The Eighth Commandment in the Prophets

5 min

The last book of the Old Testament contains an important warning about stealing. The nation of Israel was robbing God by failing to bring the tithes and offerings that He required. This warning in the Book of Malachi is one that Godly men of every generation should heed.

According to Malachi 3:8–9, Israel received this accusation and warning: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.” Yet God, our redeeming God, also proclaimed a promise to those who obeyed His instruction: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:10–12).

The object of this particular article is to set the words of Malachi in their historical context and to show the connection between the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” and the tithe that God required from the people of Israel. To ignore the tithe was to steal from the God of Heaven. (A practical and encouraging article on tithing can be found here: “Why is tithing important?”, as well as in Men’s Manual Volume II).

The prophet Malachi lived and wrote after the Exile during the days of the Second Temple. Zerubbabel, along with 42,360 Israelites, had returned from Babylon after the edict of the Persian king Cyrus in 538 B.C. The remnant had begun almost right away to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest. Sadly, the work stalled. God’s people became more interested in building their own houses and farms rather than rebuilding God’s Temple. The prophet Haggai asked the returning exiles, “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?” (Haggai 1:4).

Under the leadership of Ezra the scribe, important reforms were instituted and the work of rebuilding the Temple resumed and was completed. With the return of Nehemiah, more work was done in Jerusalem, and the walls of defense were rebuilt as well. The Law of God was read publicly in the streets of Jerusalem, and the walls were dedicated with shouts of praise and the singing of psalms.

But sadly, the necessary maintenance of the Temple, the priesthood, the offerings, and the support of the orphans and widows suffered from lack of interest over the coming years. As is often the case in our own day, it was one thing to support an exciting building project, yet it was another thing to maintain it with regular, ongoing support. God, through the prophet Malachi, charged the nation of Israel with robbery by failing to give the tithes and offerings that He commanded.

Many Christians may assume that tithing is no longer necessary in our own day. They may think that the tithe was a part of the Mosaic Law, and that it has no place in the age of grace. The reality is that tithing was practiced hundreds of years before Moses. According to Genesis Chapter 14, Abraham gave tithes of all that he possessed to the high priest Melchizedek. The tithe serves as a helpful reminder that all that we possess belongs to God, and whatever we have has been given to us to account for as faithful stewards on His behalf.

Tithing was not intended to be a burden; rather, it was to be a blessing. Our giving back to God a part of what He has bestowed upon us is an acknowledgement of our relationship and dependence upon Him, the God of Heaven. He provides us with what we need to live. We, in turn, worship Him and support His Kingdom by the regular and cheerful giving of our tithes and offerings. The Lord says in Deuteronomy 14:22–23: “Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always.”

When we regularly and cheerfully tithe, we are co-laborers with God in the grandest and most glorious work on earth! We are prioritizing God’s interests above our own (see Colossians 3:2) and laying up treasures in heaven (see Matthew 6:19–21).

Malachi warned the Israelites that to withhold their tithes was to rob God and to bring a curse upon themselves. The New Testament encourages us to give not out of obligation, but rather from a heart of cheerful generosity. “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:6–7). A helpful place to begin worshipful giving is the tithe. God invited Israel through His prophet Malachi to “prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).

We cannot outgive God. He owns “the cattle upon a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10). “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). We give Him our tithes and offerings not because God needs them, but because we need this tangible reminder! We need a regular reminder to align our priorities with God’s priorities. Our tithes and offerings support ministers of the Gospel in our local churches; they enable global evangelism; they support widows and orphans; and, ultimately, our giving honors God.

Is it possible that we as Christian men today, like the Israelites in Malachi’s day, could be guilty of robbing God of what He expects and desires from us in the area of financial stewardship? How can we know if we are? Ask God to show you. Prayerfully read His Word. According to I Corinthians 10:11, what happened to Israel in the Old Testament was written for our example and admonition. Also, know that God looks at our hearts. He already knows if we are greedy, stingy, and selfish. He knows if we have a lack of faith or have given a full surrender of ourselves to Him. God has given us many good examples in His Word of faithful men who gave tithes to the Lord. We can follow these examples by making the tithe a consistent part of our worship and a token of our gratitude.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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